New influences take rock band to a dark territory

Fans of Valencia, a five-piece pop/rock band from Philadelphia, know the group for its upbeat melodies and soaring choruses. Its latest release sees Shane Henderson (vocals), Daniel Pawlovich (drums), JD Perry (guitar), George Ciukurescu (bass) and Brendan Walter (guitar) stepping outside of their comfort zone both lyrically and musically in an impressive fashion.

Ghost dance · The new album takes risky but successful moves. - Photo courtesy of I Surrender Records

Their signature pop/punk/Americana sound remains intact, but are supplemented by new R&B, blues, country and Mexican rock influences quite masterfully throughout the album.

Kicking things off is the record’s title track, “Dancing With A Ghost,” which features the trademark clean guitars of Walter and Perry and a beat sure to get hands clapping. The song starts the album off right with its sing-along chorus and thoughtful lyrics.

The next track, “Spinning Out” features slower, more melodic verses bolstered by Henderson’s soulful vocal delivery in the powerful chorus. Throughout the song, he sings lyrics that include I feel like I’m in over my head / I just always self-destruct / I guess I’m blinded by the sudden loss of love.

“Still Need You Around (Lost Without You)” is a somber, touching offering that packs one of the greatest punches on the record. It is at this point where Valencia starts reinventing itself and where the album really takes off.

Normally a slow song would feel out of place this early in a record, but it actually works here. Accompanied throughout by a violin, the song builds up in epic fashion in the bridge as the band members come together to provide emotional vocals about trying to grapple with the mortality of their parents and how difficult life would be without them.

Up next is “Consider Me Dead,” another new direction for Valencia. It is the hardest song in its repertoire, complete with guttural screams in the background of the bridge, and although it is slightly repetitive, it still provides an enjoyable listen.

“Losing Sleep” sees palm-muted guitars in the verses that give way to an absolutely soaring chorus as Henderson sings, You know I won’t give up without a fight / Even if I’m the one who’s wrong and you’re who’s right.

Perhaps the most interesting song on the record is track six, “Friday Night.” It opens with a classical orchestra before transitioning seamlessly into a down-and-dirty rock ‘n’ roll guitar riff that demands attention. The verses carry a bluesy vibe to them and the chorus is sure to get people moving.

Valencia then drops the tempo with the next offering, “Somewhere I Belong,” a track where an orchestral theme backs Henderson as he softly sings lines such as, My life has always been a dead-end street / With heavy eyes that shoot through me. Complimented by a female vocalist by the name of Simon Wilcox, the harmonies here are nothing short of beautiful.

Following such a stunner is no easy task, and “Days Go By” seems to come up short in comparison to the previous track. Although it is good as a stand-alone track with its bouncy verses and catchy chorus, it just simply does not have an impact like its predecessor. The folk feel that it takes on in the bridge, though, is quite intriguing and consequently begs for the entire song to be replayed.

The last two tracks on the record close it out in dramatic fashion. “The Way” has a bit of a country twang in its guitar riff while featuring an upbeat, memorable chorus reminiscent of Valencia’s previous release, We All Need a Reason to Believe.

The closer, “Stop Searching,” is perhaps the best song Valencia has ever written. The guitar riff is utterly infectious while the pounding drums and Henderson’s vocals in the verses create a Mexican-rock vibe. The chorus features Valencia’s first endeavor into double-time drumming, also known as the “punk beat,” and the song is full of hooks and energy exemplified by group vocals. The vocals are also top-notch, with Henderson belting out lines such as, Did I speak too soon about the elephant in the room / I’d survive with or without you but what would that prove?

All in all, Dancing with a Ghost is an intriguing listen that sees a band knowing its signature sound, but reworking it tirelessly to turn a good album into an excellent one.

Although the flow seems a little off between the two ballads and their subsequent tracks, the album as a whole is quite cohesive, and it begs to be listened to as a whole as opposed to skipping around.

Simply put, Valencia know how to make good music, and Dancing with a Ghost provides thunderous support to that claim.